Stating that a rising star is the next…whoever…isn’t something new in Hollywood. They’re always looking for the next big thing because like it or not, the stars we grow up with eventually get old, lose their spark, their charisma, their audience. So with the release of Zac Efron’s latest film, “Charlie St. Cloud” and the passing of Tom Cruise’s 32nd film, the highly entertaining but box-office disappointment “Knight and Day”, I’m starting to hear a lot of entertainment magazines and blogs calling Zac Efron the next Tom Cruise. But it’s gonna take a bit more than a winning smile and some acting talent to fill Mr. Cruise’s rather large shoes, yes? Cruise has had an impressive run as Hollywood’s mightiest star and, despite three Academy Award nominations, one of it’s most under-appreciated actors. But Cruise is also an actor who has taken some of the biggest risks of any other actor in history…and won.
To understand the progression of Tom Cruise as an actor, one must go back to his earliest appearances in films. After making his film debut with a small part in 1981’s “Endless Love“, he landed the role of hot-headed cadet David Shawn in “Taps” (1981). The film, which also featured fellow up and coming actors Sean Penn & Timothy Hutton, received favorable reviews as did its young cast. It was Hutton and Penn, however, who were billed the next great actors of their generation (they went on to star together in “The Falcon and the Snowman” in 1985). And Cruise? Like Efron today – handsome, promising, marketable.
Cruise’s next film, 1983’s “The Outsiders” (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) would put him alongside another cast of future stars: C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, & Ralph Macchio. They were called the new “Brat Pack” and they were poised to take over Hollywood. This was more of a fit for a young Tom Cruise, no? Let Penn, Hutton, and subsequently Matt Dillon go after Oscar nominations. This new ‘Brat Pack’ can sell tickets, which is infinitely more important to Hollywood.
After starring in the ill-fated “Losin’ it” with Shelly Long, Cruise was given top-billing in his next film “All The Right Moves”, a coming-of-age story about a high school footballer (Cruise) whose ticket out of his small Pennsylvania mill town is a scholarship to a big school. The film put Cruise on the map and he then went on to hit superstar status playing an affluent sex-starved suburban teenager in the hit movie “Risky Business” (1983). Mr. Cruise had finally arrived.
After being horribly miscast in Ridley Scott’s enjoyable (well, at least to me it was) and visually stunning film “Legend”, Cruise flexed serious box-office muscle in Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” . The film grossed over $300 million world-wide and made Tom Cruise an international superstar. Still not a darling of the critics, however, but so what? Selling tickets at the box-office and having your Teen Magazine poster hung in every 15-year-old girl’s bedroom is every young actor’s dream, right Mr. Efron? Perhaps not for young Tom Cruise.
The Road Less Traveled
Well, here’s where I believe Tom Cruise decided to take the road less traveled by his fellow ‘Brat Packers’. For his next film, Cruise took a huge risk to star alongside Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s “The Color of Money” (1986). In the film, Cruise plays Vincent, a smiling, cocky, but hopelessly insecure and naïve character while Newman reprises his role as “Fast Eddie” Felson from the 1961 classic “The Hustler”. Surely, Cruise would be rendered obsolete sharing the screen with the great Paul Newman (who would go on to win his first Academy Award for “Best Actor”). This type of role was best left to the likes of Hutton or Dillon. . .no?
In a surprising turn, Cruise received the best reviews of his career. Richard Schickel of Time proclaimed: “There is a ferocity in Cruise’s flakiness that he has not previously had a chance to tap…and it carries him beyond the bounds of image, the movie beyond the bounds of genre.” Cruise’s gamble had paid off. He took his career as just a pretty-boy actor in another direction. He took a risk…and it worked.
Mr. Cruise went on to take an even bigger risk when he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in 1988’s “Rain Man”. Now, any actor knows that when you star alongside an actor of Mr. Hoffman’s stature AND said actor is playing a character who is handicapped (or gay), you’ve got to work really hard to get noticed. Why would Cruise, still one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, want to now duke it out on screen with the likes of Hoffman?
As it turned out, the film was a critical and box-office success. Reviews of Cruise’s performance, however, were mixed. Desson Howe of the Washington Post wrote: “Hoffman blows costar Cruise right off the screen. Likable as he is, Cruise confuses spunk for performance.” While Vincent Camby of the NY Times stated: “The film’s true central character, though he’s not the center of attention, is the confused, economically and emotionally desperate Charlie, beautifully played by Mr. Cruise, even when he is put into the position of acting as straight-man to his co-star.”
Tom Cruise & Oliver Stone?
Cruise then took still his biggest career risk to date playing paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989). Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone? Surely this was going to end badly. The film, however, garnered rave reviews and earned Cruise his first Academy Award nomination for “Best Actor”. Roger Ebert echoed my own sentiments after seeing the movie: “Nothing Cruise has done will prepare you for what he does in Born on the Fourth of July.”
But by now we shouldn’t be surprised when Cruise challenges himself, challenges us. He has taken career risks that no other actor of his generation has dared do. In 1992, Cruise went up against one of the greatest actors of all time, Jack Nicholson, in the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men”. You’re really asking for it when you want to go “macho for macho” with Nicholson (who earned an Oscar nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his role in the film) playing a cigar-chomping, crusty Marine commander in a role Richard Schickel of Time Magazine claimed was, “…not so much played as demonized.” Yikes! But like the heroes he plays, he seems to conquer whatever comes his way with his legendary work ethic and unwavering dedication. “Working with Tom is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given by this business.” ~Steven Spielberg.
Fast forward to 1996’s “Mission: Impossible”. Cruise is cast for the first time as a lead in an action movie, a genre that can exploit even the most skilled of actors (just ask Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer or Brad Pitt). But, again, Cruise is up to the task, as Stephen Holden of the NY Times put it: “Tom Cruise has found the perfect superhero character on which to graft his breathlessly gung-ho screen personality.” The film (and it’s sequel in 2000) go on to gross almost a billion dollars worldwide making Cruise Hollywood’s biggest star.
And in 2004, Cruise took yet another huge risk playing a villain (for the first time in his career) in Michael Mann’s gritty crime thriller “Collateral”. In the film, Cruise plays the cold-blooded hitman Vincent who’s in town for the night to rub out five targets. Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer put it best in his comparison of Cruise to two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks: “As for Mr. Cruise, he’s taken something of a career risk here – almost but not quite the same risk that Tom Hanks took with his roles as the gay lawyer in Philadelphia (1993) and the mobster in Road to Perdition (2002). For one thing, Mr. Hanks has been overrated as a supposedly subtle character actor just as much as Mr. Cruise has been underrated. For another, Mr. Hanks has never played a role as unabashedly monstrous and menacing as Mr. Cruise’s Vincent.”
So, how many of us ever dare measure ourselves up to our competition? How many aspiring filmmakers fail to enter film competitions because they’re afraid of their film being rejected? Professional speakers who shy away from sharing the same stage with other speakers for fear they might be outshined? Actors that never audition for a role because they hear that another actor who they consider superior is also auditioning? How many of us fail to go after a promotion at our work because, despite confidence in our abilities, we don’t want to find out that we didn’t measure up?
Think Tom Cruise got success handed to him on a platter? Think again. This is an actor who came from a broken home (his mother left his father when Cruise was twelve, taking him and his three sisters with her). An actor who would say of his estranged father, “He was a bully and a coward.” An actor who spent his childhood on the move and by the time he was 14 had attended 15 different schools in the US and Canada. An actor who at one time aspired to become a Catholic priest. An actor who dropped out of High School and headed to New York in pursuit of an acting career despite suffering from dyslexia. “People can create their own lives.” Cruise once said in an interview with Parade Magazine. “I saw how my mother created hers and made it possible for us to survive”. Despite his many challenges, Tom Cruise created his own life…why shouldn’t we?
And Then There Was One
As for Cruise’s apparently equally talented “Brat Packers” C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estévez? Their careers had long-since fizzled out. Their filmographies suggests they decided to take the easier roles, the ones they were comfortable playing. They rarely, if ever took the types of risks with their careers that Cruise had taken. And as for the careers of those “clearly” more talented than Cruise, Timothy Hutton (who actually won an Academy Award in 1981) and Matt Dillon? Their careers never reached their once promising potential. Perhaps they didn’t work as hard as Cruise did because they started to believe all the hype. Or maybe Cruise was simply the better actor all along. Only Sean Penn has remained relevant, now considered one of his generation’s finest actors. Box-office success, however, has eluded Penn throughout his career.
The German-American theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.” But Tom Cruise did more than just take risks, he put himself in as good a position to succeed as possible by working with the types of directors that have a history of getting the best from their actors: Scorsese, Levinson, Stone, Pollack, De Palma, Kubrick, Spielberg, Mann. How often do we gravitate to those that can help us succeed? That can help us get to the next level? Cruise himself has said: “When I work, I work very hard. So I look to work with people who have that level of dedication. And I depend on that from everyone. From the director to my crews that I work with.” Take a look at the supporting cast around you – are they working as hard as you? Are they as dedicated?
Zac Efron has said that he admires Cruise’s legendary “drive” and “focus” but that he is not the 21st-century version of the ’80s star. “I’m not the next Tom Cruise because there will never be another.” proclaimed Mr. Efron. “I don’t want to go and copy Top Gun.” Top Gun? I think young Zac misses the point. Many actors have had “Top Gun” success as I’m sure one day even Mr. Efron will also – the path that leads a young actor to such success is wide and welcoming – but it’s a short road. The question is whether Mr. Efron will ever venture off that road, to a road that’s not as wide nor welcoming. The road that only those who truly believe in themselves and are not afraid to fail dare to travel. The road Tom Cruise took. That’s why I like him.
What are some of the risks you’ve taken in your life? Your career? What were the results? Any regrets? I look forward to your comments…
Subscribe in a reader and never miss a new post. You won’t be sorry…promise.
Dan – Incredibly well-written and thought-out post! I thought I was coming here just to read about Tom Cruise, only to find you illustrating in a way I wish I could the benefits of stepping out and taking risks, and raising your own bar. It's easy enough for writers to talk about risk; harder to analyze and communicate a real demonstration of it. Thought-provoking, inspiring, and a little fear-instilling. Well done!
The most recent risk I took was leaving a job I was unhappy with to pursue my writing dreams. I'm vacillating between thinking I was crazy and thinking this may be the best move of my life. But, as you say, where would we be if the greatest among us never took a risk?
This made me realise that I don't take enough risks and it is time for me to believe more in myself!
Good piece. The message always gets muddied when the tabloid media tries to define artists. Cruise hasn't made it difficult for the tabloid media to define him to the public. You are right, his body of work is excellent.
Dan I really enjoyed this piece.
I enjoy Cruise as an actor; I never really thought about the risks he took aside others who took the easy way “out.”
The arts are tough – been there my entire life.
Life is too short not to take a few risks!!!
Dan, I don't know what more I can add than to say that the only risky move is the safe move. Cruise has always been willing to eschew safe for what he felt was right and we're all the better for it. Excellent piece.
Thanks for this post and giving us a quick tour through his journey! I always loved Tom Cruise. Even though he cut me off in the parking lot of the Chateau Marmont parking lot and told me to screw myself. That was back in '85. Poor guy. I wish he never jumped on the couch. Only two things I might have mentioned (although I'm not an expert on him). Paula Wagner has been a huge backbone of his and has absorbed and responded to many of the risks he took. And how do ya leave out Les Grossman!?!?! Thanks again. ~Mike
Great post, Dan. The thing I have learnt about taking risks over the years is that they go hand in hand with failure. If you take a lot of risks you will have failure in your life. But as you rightly point out, following the riskier path enlightens, strengthens and forces you to grow in different ways to the vast majority of people who follow the safe freeway. Taking risks has value.
I agree about Cruise taking risks, Interview with a Vampire and Magnolia also spring to mind as risky choices. He does stretch himself, but can also play to his strengths. Primarily his physicality. As a funny example: he has always looked good running fast (The Firm, Mission Impossible, etc).
If Cruise has a weakness in his portfolio of work it is that you never feel lost in his performance in the way that an actor like Sean Penn can transport you out of your perception of your image of them and into something completely different. I remember seeing Penn in Carlito’s Way and not recognizing him. At the end of the film I scoured the credits to discover who had played this crazy lawyer so well and was blown away to see it was Sean Penn. This never happens for me with Tom Cruise. He is always Tom Cruise acting. Acting well on occasion, but always the actor. On the flip side of this you never feel like you really know who HE is either. He seems to occupy a distance between his own persona and the real world. He also does this with the characters he portrays and the real world. Like someone wearing a mask each time and you never see the real depth in any of the masks he wears.
Whilst I really enjoy Tom Cruise’s films, I’m never convinced that he is 100% committed and able to be totally ‘there’ in the characters he plays or even there in himself. Because of this I find it difficult to establish a real connection with his characters or him. That’s probably why I found Magnolia so interesting, because he seemed to be exploring this notion of facade and identity which is so unique to him. Having said all of this, it isn’t enough to stop liking him and his work.
He is a great actor to watch though and has created an enviable body of highly watchable work with so many of the world’s greatest directors. Likable, watchable and charismatic Tom Cruise and his work should not be dismissed too readily by anyone
You didn't have to convince me, I am alrady a fan. But I have never thought about the diversity of his roles like this before. Thanks for sharing your insight Dan.
You know, I haven't really taken any risks lately. Everything I've done, I've felt more or less comfortable with. Perhaps the biggest risk I took was moving to Philly to work for a start-up right out of college. Even that seemed more exciting than risky to me.
Perhaps it's time I took some more risks while I still can?
Great post, Dan. People have been ragging on him ever since the couch jumping incident, but I always appreciated the diversity of the roles he picks, as well as his great acting.
David, I quit my very nice-paying Director of Sales & Marketing job to start my video production business when I was 37 years old…with a wife, an 8-yr-old & a mortgage (and sans your rugged good looks). Think over the next year and a half I pulled in about $16k (ouch!) but over the last three years, the business has grown quite nicely (despite the economy). It's never too late. . .
Thanks for taking the time to read, RT & comment.
Tyler, high praise coming from such an accomplished writer. Thank for taking the time to read & comment.
This post is not about jumping on couches, Scientology, ex-wives/relationships…just his acting career which has been remarkable. I only became a big fan of his after films like Eyes Wide Shut, Minority Report, Magnolia, and Collateral. He is one of the most under-appreciated of actors.
Thanks for reading & comment 🙂
Mike, Thanks for taking the time to read as well as for your comment. Heck, I could have also included Interview With The Vampire, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia but I had to draw the line somewhere. Nice point about Paula Wagner – what great man ever did succeed without a great woman behind him?
Jeremy, Thank you for your terrific comment. You are 100% correct: Tom Cruise does not possess the natural abilities of a Penn, Brando, Depp, Nicholson, Hackman but he probably works harder than any other actor to get as close as possible to these levels.
Another excellent observation was the reference to Magnolia. Here's what I edited out of my original post:
*** Let’s fast forward again to 1999’s “Magnolia” a film by an “actor’s director” Paul Thomas Anderson. In the film, Cruise (who would go on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor) plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a charismatic guru of a cultish self-help seminar for would-be macho lady-killers that teaches them how to “Seduce and Destroy”. Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle calls Cruise’s performance, “the most amazing performance of many here.” Now, this is a cast that included the likes of John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, & William H. Macy. Huh? ***
Cruise was also excellent in Minority Report (perhaps my favorite of his roles). He has become quite the actor from being considered just a pretty face when his career started. Perhaps one day he will get his due and win an Academy Award (hopefully, after Gary Oldman gets his!).
This is such an amazing article and I hope that Tom Cruise sees it.
I think that Tom is evergreen and still the next Tom Cruise 😉
I don't even know what else to add. You are brilliant!
Jessica, thanks for taking the time to read, comment & RT – much appreciated! You know, I really didn't see this post taking the inspirational turn it did until about half way through so I just went with it. So glad you enjoyed it *hug*
Wow! Really interesting read and inspiring. I don’t think of myself as a risk taker at all and yet people will look at my decisions and say I have taken some really big risks. The last one was my leaving an awesome job as a marketing professor at the University of Utah to be with my husband in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is a really small place with no industry other than academia to employ my talents, and there was no opening in academia.
But I left, knowing that it all works out and what is most important right now is for my son and me to be with my husband. And it did. The last two years have been a wonderful growing experience for me – I have had to learn things which I never would have if I continued with the easier path. Like this conversation wouldn’t be happening because I was able to learn a lot about social media only after I quit my job and had to recreate my career and social media was a big part of it. In the last two years I have extended myself and skills like I never would have and am benefiting from all of this in so many ways.
So from my perspective, there is no real risk if I do what feels right to me. Second, even though the less taken road is harder, it has always made me stronger and smarter, and therefore better.
I also resonate very strongly with Tom’s quotes. ”Take a look at the supporting cast around you – are they working as hard as you? Are they as dedicated?” I am not afraid because I know I am good learner and hard worker, but this is a good point to keep in mind, to build a team that is as dedicated as I am.
Thanks for a thoughtful post…
What a wonderful synopsis of a talented actor’s career. I have followed and loved Cruise from the very beginning (Taps) and have been increasingly impressed with his versatility and passion with which he works. Whether or not you agree with his religion or politics (I do not) there is no disputing his talent and work ethic. Excellent post!
Excellent points. We tend to think we can accomplish goals on our own. However, Tom Cruise will be the first to rave about his mother and sisters. How they made him stronger and who he is today. And alothough, it is our internal drive that will lead us to success, other individuals will get us there. I believe that is another aspect of Mr. Cruises’ success. He surrounds himself with great people. As do you and I. Dr. Z
I can relate 100% to relocating your family as I moved my wife & daughter here to South Florida from NYC over 7 years ago. We had no friends or family here so it was tough at first but over the years, we have grown stronger as a family.
Fortunately, I was blessed by meeting lots of great people who helped me in my transition to the area as well as sharing their professional resources with me. I agree with you: there is no real risk if you do what feels right in your heart. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks for the post, Dan. You could have also mentioned Cruise’s cameo in “Tropic Thunder” in which he transformed himself in a way none of his peers has dared to.
Yeah he really took some huge risks in his life??? I had no idea how brave he is? That was such a huge risk working with Scorcese, Newman, Hoffman, and getting paid millions to do so etc…? Me, I prefer the time I quit the job where I was making double the salary in order to persue something I enjoyed doing with a real family to support…that’s risk in real life not this Hollywood fab stuff you’ve been smokin!!!
Dan, this was such a delight to read and certainly has given me something to reflect on. I don’t like Tom Cruise as an actor, but after reading this I have a better understanding of him and can certain admire his hutzpa. I have taken some risks and I’m grateful for the chance. I took time off to be with my kids, although I knew it would hurt my career. And, when I was most scared to do it, I went out and started my own business, in a bad economy with no contacts. I’ve learned a lot about me and about God in the process. Now I’ll be looking for the next door that slightly ajar, so I can open it 😉
You and me both! I went solo in 2006, right when the economy was beginning to crash. It has not been easy but our business has grown each of the last three years. If you believe in your abilities, devise a plan for success, and put your faith in God, good things will happen. Proverbs 21:31, that’s how I’m living…
Thanks for taking the time to read and RT 🙂
Collateral is one of my favorite films, largely in part because of Cruise’s vicious performance as Vincent. Truly a great actor.
Why I Like Tom Cruise…And Why You Should Too! I can never answer this question but I know that I like him!
Loved going through the comments as well as site! After all its about “TOM CRUISE”!
Yikes! But like the heroes he plays, he seems to conquer whatever comes his way with his legendary work ethic and unwavering dedication.
As much as I would like to credit Mr. Cruise with calculated risks, I think his off-screen personality and choices lend to the notion that each radical new direction is radical for the sake of being radical. He has certainly proven that he has the acting chops to deliver in most of his projects but it will take more insight for me to declare that he arrived at these roles through any calculation beyond measuring degree of difficulty.
The post only speaks on his on-screen accomplishments – his off-camera life has had its share of controversy but with a star of such magnitude, how can you escape the tabloids? Mission impossible, yes?
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I’ve never been a big fan of Tom Cruise, but this does increase my respect for his work. I still don’t see him as an acting “great”, but he could have been content to play pretty boy roles, and it’s admirable that he took more risks.
Definitely not one of the greats but better than many who were considered better than he, yes? Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Not taking any risk is the most risky thing to do.
[…] NOTE: This post originally appeared over at DanPerezFilms.com […]
[…] is an updated version of a post published in August, […]
[…] This is an updated version of a post published in August, 2010 Stating that a rising star is the next…whoever…isn’t something new […]